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The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

In John Ford's nostalgic and memorable last Western, a revisionistic work with John Wayne (in a quintessential role):

  • in the opening scene, elderly and revered US Senator Ransom "Ranse" Stoddard (James Stewart) arrived in the year 1910 in the small western town of Shinbone (either Arizona or Colorado Territory) with his wife Hallie Stoddard (Vera Miles) to attend the funeral of Tom Doniphon (John Wayne); he told newspaperman Maxwell Scott (Carleton Young), in the film's lengthy flashback, about how he had allegedly become a legend and was known as "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"
  • Stoddard looked back on his past, beginning 25 years earlier when he first arrived in the small frontier town as a young, idealistic pacifistic attorney at law from the East Coast: ("l was just a youngster, fresh out of law school, bag full of law books and my father's gold watch, $14.80 in cash. l had taken Horace Greeley's advice literally: Go west, young man, go west, and seek fame, fortune, adventure")
  • the Senator continued by describing his relationship with tough and rugged homesteader and gunslinger Tom Doniphon - who had protected Ransom (famously referred to as "Pilgrim") from continual taunting, including caring for him after he was beaten up by outlaw Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) during a stagecoach robbery; when Doniphon urged: ("You better start packin' a handgun"), Stoddard vowed that he was non-violent, and would instead rely on his law books to bring justice to the town: ("A gun? l don't want a gun. I don't want a gun. l don't want to kill him. l want to put him in jail")
  • drunken, abusive, violent, silver-knobbed whip-wielding villain and gun-man Liberty Valance conflicted with Ransom - especially during their memorable confrontational restaurant scene when Valance deliberately tripped apron-wearing dishwasher/waiter employee Ransom while serving a steak dinner to Doniphon, who then threatened Valance: "That was my steak, Valance!"
  • when Doniphon was teaching Ransom to shoot, he deliberately splattered Ransom with paint from one of three paint cans during target practice: ("l hate tricks, Pilgrim, but that's what you're up against with Valance. He's almost as fast as l am") - Ransom growlingly responded and slugged Doniphon in the jaw that sent him to the ground: "I don't like tricks myself, so that makes us even"
  • there was a climactic shootout-showdown on a dusty street in which Valance taunted and then wounded Ransom in his right arm; Valance aimed his gun and vowed to kill Ransom with his next shot: ("This time, right between the eyes"); but miraculously, Random - left-handed - appeared to shoot Valance dead
  • Doniphon privately confronted Ransom a few weeks later during a political convention when he informed him about the real truth of the legendary gunfight - Ransom never shot Liberty; it was told during a 'flashback-within-a-flashback' introduced with a swirl of smoke from Doniphon's cigarette: ("You didn't kill Liberty Valance...Think back, Pilgrim. Valance came out of the saloon. You were walking toward him when he fired his first shot. Remember?"); Doniphon revealed how he was hidden on a side street with his devoted sidekick Pompey (Woody Strode) when the showdown occurred; Pompey threw him a rifle and at the exact moment of the shooting, Doniphon killed Valance; he had shot Liberty to sacrificially protect the love of his life Hallie from heartbreak (knowing Stoddard would die in a face-off), and also for the greater good of the territory poised for statehood: (Doniphon: "Cold-blooded murder, but l can live with it. Hallie's happy. She wanted you alive"); Doniphon was now regretful for saving Ransom's life: "I wish I hadn't. Hallie's your girl now. Go on back in there and take that nomination. You taught her how to read and write. Now give her somethin' to read and write about!"
Flashback: The Shoot-Out
  • the bitter sad, and tragic result of Doniphon's killing of Liberty Valance was that it allowed Ransom to take Hallie away as his wife - the woman Doniphon had loved in silence and had hoped to marry; a drunken Doniphon staggered home and set his own house on fire by tossing an oil lamp into it; it had an extra addition that he had built - planned to be the residence for his bride-to-be Hallie; Doniphon (and his horses) were saved only by Pompey's intervention
  • for the remainder of his life as a politician ("Three terms as governor, two terms in the Senate, Ambassador to the Court of St. James, back again to the Senate, and a man who, with the snap of his fingers, could be the next Vice President of the United States"), Stoddard was mistakenly known as "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"
  • at the end of Stoddard's flashback after he finished his true tale about his past, local newspaper editor Maxwell Scott (Carleton Young) delivered a famous line of dialogue in the film's conclusion as he ripped up his novice reporter's notes and refused to publish the truth of the story: (Ransom: "You're not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?" Scott: "No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend")
  • after their visit, Ransom and Hallie gave complex (and melancholic) reactions to the conductor on their train back to Washington DC, who enthusiastically told them: "Nothing's too good for the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"

Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart) - Beaten Up During Stagecoach Robbery

Tom Doniphon (John Wayne)

Villainous Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin)

Doniphon Slugged to the Ground by Ransom During Target Practice

Doniphon's Confession About Who Actually Shot Liberty Valance

Doniphon Setting His Own House on Fire

The Telling of Ransom's Flashbacked Tale

The Stoddards' Train Ride Home


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